Press Releases

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged members of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy to approve a measure she has introduced to protect retirement benefits for public service workers.

The Subcommittee today held a hearing on two provisions of the Social Security Act—the “Government Pension Offset” and the “Windfall Elimination Provision”—which effectively reduce the retirement benefits earned by public employees such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a measure to repeal those two provisions.

Following is the text of the statement submitted by Senator Feinstein today to the Subcommittee hearing:

“Mr. Chairman, I first would like to thank the members of the Finance Committee for scheduling this afternoon’s hearing on protecting retirement benefits for our nation’s public service workers.

It is critical that we attract and retain the most qualified individuals for careers in public service. 

But today, nearly one million federal, state, and municipal public employees are unfairly held to a different standard when it comes to their retirement benefits. 

In California alone, the problem affects about 200,000 workers.

The cause:  two provisions of the Social Security Act—called the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision—which unfairly reduce the retirement benefits earned by public employees such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters .

These two provisions were originally designed—the Government Pension Offset in 1977 and the Windfall Elimination Provision in 1983—to prevent public employees from being unduly enriched.

But today, the practical effect is that those providing critical public services – teachers, firefighters, and police officers – are unjustly penalized.

The time has come to put an end to this unfair reduction in retirement benefits. 

In January, I introduced legislation with Senator Collins to protect the retirement benefits earned by public employees and eliminate barriers which discourage many Americans from pursuing careers in public service. 

Specifically, the legislation we have introduced, called the “Social Security Fairness Act” (S. 206) would repeal the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision.

The Government Pension Offset reduces a public employee’s Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by an amount equal to roughly two-thirds of his or her public pension. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Pension Offset provision alone reduces the benefits earned by more than 300,000 Americans each year, by upwards of $3,600.  In some cases, for those living on fixed incomes, this represents the difference between a comfortable retirement and poverty.  

Take the case of a widowed, retired police officer who receives a public pension of $1000 per month. 

His job in the local police department was not covered by Social Security, yet his wife’s private-sector employment was.  An amount equal to two-thirds of his public pension, or about $700 each month, would be cut from his Social Security survivor benefits. 

If this individual is eligible for $800 in survivor benefits, the Government Pension Offset provision would reduce his monthly benefits to $100.

In most cases, the Government Pension Offset eliminates the spousal benefit for which an individual qualifies. 

In fact, 9 out of 10 public employees affected by the Government Pension Offset lose their entire spousal benefit, even though their spouse paid Social Security taxes for many years.

The Windfall Elimination Provision reduces Social Security benefits by up to 50 percent for retirees who have paid into Social Security and also receive a public pension, such as from a teacher retirement fund. 

Private-sector retirees typically receive monthly Social Security checks equal to 90 percent of their first $656 in average monthly career earnings. 

However, under the Windfall Elimination Provision, retired public employees are only allowed to receive 40 percent of the first $656 in career monthly earnings, a penalty of over $300 per month.

Repealing the Windfall provision under the Social Security Fairness Act will allow government pensioners the chance to receive the same 90 percent of their benefits to which non-government pension recipients are entitled.

The Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision make it more difficult to recruit teachers, police officers, and fire fighters—and, it does so at a time when we should be doing everything we can to recruit the best and brightest to these careers.

Law Enforcement: California’s police force needs to add more than 10,000 new officers by 2014—a growth of nearly 15 percent—while hiring more than 15,000 additional officers to replace those who leave the force.

Teachers: It is estimated that public schools will need to hire between 2.2 million and 2.7 million new teachers nationwide by 2009 because of record enrollments.  The projected retirements of thousands of veteran teachers and critical efforts to reduce class sizes also necessitate hiring additional teachers. 

 California currently has more than 300,000 teachers but will need to double this number by 2010, to 600,000 teachers, in order to keep up with student enrollment levels. 

Most importantly, the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision hinder efforts to recruit new math and science teachers from the private sector. 

 So, it is counterintuitive that on the one-hand, we seek to encourage people to change careers and enter the teaching profession, while on the other hand, those wishing to do so are discouraged because they are clearly told that their Social Security retirement benefits will be significantly reduced.

 I certainly recognize that today’s tough budget times make repealing the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision difficult. So, with this in mind, I remain open to considering any alternatives that will allow public employees to keep the Social Security benefits to which they are entitled. 

Bottom line: we should respect, not penalize, our public service employees. 

So, I hope that my colleagues will join me in protecting the retirement benefits of our Nation’s hard working public servants.  We value their contributions and must ensure that all Americans receive the retirement benefits they have earned and deserve.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

 
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